It was a hot day here in Conestogo, so it was perfect for a little of this and a little of that. After putting the studio back in order (charcoal makes quite a mess …) in the morning I attended to a number of small, ongoing projects. After the worst heat of the day was over, my children and I headed down to the river.
In driving along the Conestogo River I had noticed a place where I thought there might be some good rocks because the river slope was a little steeper, so we headed down there. It turned out that the whole hike was a good collecting trip. In total we found six beautiful, yellow ochre rocks (usually I consider it a good trip if I find one)! These are wonderful to have for the project.
It wasn’t a day for moving too fast so, with our treasures in hand enjoyed the river together, skipped some stones, tried a crab-apple for the experience and watched all the butterflies.
This week I received some unexpected help in the 100 mile ART Project: About 40 grade-seven students from Laurentian Hills Christian School in Kitchener!
On Tuesday and Thursday of this week Mrs. Lisa Eelkema and Mrs. Shirley Huinink brought their students on a field trip out to Conestogo to collect some river rocks and then afterwards create paint from those very samples. In both cases we met down by the Conestogo River and, after showing a couple of examples to the class, all the students were let loose to find their own colourful rocks. Some collected a few pristine specimens while others were inclined to carry the small boulders they had found, but everyone had fun looking.
After this, with their rocks in hand, we hiked back to my studio. Step by step we washed, crushed, sieved and mulled our rocks. And, in the end, we ended up with some very good pigment samples. All told, we created five quite distinct tones.
Finally we mixed the pigment with our egg-yolk binder and, voilà, we had paint. Each student then experimented with their afternoon’s work by painting something on the large table in my studio (which you can see at the bottom of this post). This was good for expediency’s sake, but of course the same colours they created could have just as easily be used to create watercolour, oil and acrylic paints or crayons, pastels or pottery glazes, etc.
Many of the students were kind enough to leave me with some of their left-over pigment and this means that I am suddenly ahead of schedule for processing Conestogo pigments!
So, what did the student’s think? Mrs. Eelkema was good enough to share a few comments with me and my favourite was, “Best field trip ever!” I’m glad they had such a good time and hope a few will come and see their pigment in it’s final form at the exhibition. As one student remarked, “Rock on!”.
As the water has continued to recede from the Conestoga River I have continued to explore the different strata that become exposed. Since these layers are best visible from the river, this weekend I ventured to climb into the river itself and get the best vantage I possible could for collecting my rocks. The spring-time water is still very cold, and I could only last about twenty minutes before I needed to climb out and warm up my feet, but the results were well worth the effort.
The little rock I’ve posted here is very, very soft and I suspect that if it was left in the water for very long it would wash away to nothing. It is wonderfully bright in colour, and if you make your hand wet it will draw a streak of ochre across your palm.
With the hope of finding other such treasures to lure me, I’m afraid that I will be standing the the river quite often in the next little while looking for these little lumps of pigment before they wash away.
This afternoon my two oldest children and I went out for a walk in the old Mill’s run in Conestogao. This area is beautiful and something we treasure. It was just above freezing, so the snow still covered the ground, but we could hear the water was running well. As we followed different paths we ended up right on the Conestoga River’s bank and both children were content to play here; skipping rocks, throwing snow and ‘fishing’ with poles made from found twigs.
I was also happy to stop and watch the river run. I guess my gaze slowly fell from the moving stream to the bank, and for a long time I just stared blankly at the ground (a pastime I remember from my own childhood) and then I suddenly focused: There was bright colour at my feet!
As I’ve already posted, Conestoga has been known for it’s Sienna pigment for over a century, but these river rocks could only be called an ochre colour. The river was freezing cold, and my hands began to hurt as time and again I plunged them into the icy water to grab just ‘one more rock’.
I suppose that a company would need to be worried about constancy and the supply, but since any one of these rocks would provide enough pigment for an entire icon I am free to experiment. I’ll have to see what happens once I grind these rocks into powder; maybe they will stay bright, maybe they won’t …